East Of West #39 // Review
The House of Mao is on the warpath, and in their way is the Endless Nation in East Of West #39, by writer Jonathan Hickman, artist Nick Dragotta, colorist Frank Martin, and letterer Rus Wooton. This issue starts a new story arc, and does a good job of catching readers up with what’s been happening while also setting up the next phase of the saga.
Several years ago, at a meeting of the Chosen--the leaders of the fractured countries that make up America--the Premier of the House of Mao has sent his daughter, Hu Mao, to take his place. They talk about the Message, the prophecy that drives the group, and Hu points out that there are three versions of the text, meaning there are multiple interpretations. Fast-forward to the present, and Wolf and Crow, leaders of the Endless Nation, spy Hu Mao and her forces coming towards their territory. Elsewhere, the three Horsemen of Apocalypse find a way to hunt down Death and his son, while Archibald Chamberlain, leader of the Confederacy, spies on the meeting of the Maoist army and the Endless Nation, doing what he does best: scheming.
East of West is a comic with a steep learning curve. Combine that with its shipping schedule and even longtime readers can get lost. This issue is a welcome change from that, though. It does a good job of reintroducing all the main players, and catches readers up with what’s been going on without feeling like an exposition dump. There are so many characters in this book, and so many overlapping plots, that things can get very confusing, but it’s all presented here in a clear, concise manner that still manages to move things forward.
The biggest revelation here is the reveal about the nature of the Message. It’s always been the sword of Damocles hanging over the entire book. Readers have been told since the beginning that it laid out the end of the world, and that there was no avoiding it. Hu Mao’s supposition that the Chosen’s interpretation of it might not be the only one throws the whole thing into doubt. The ambiguity this introduces to the plot is welcome. Beyond that, the issue moves the inevitable showdown between Death and the three Horsemen of Apocalypse that much closer, and leaves readers wondering what Archibald Chamberlain is going to do about the meeting between Hu Mao and Wolf and Crow. Jonathan Hickman keeps building new layers into this book, keeping things from getting stale.
Nick Dragotta and Frank Martin’s art is wonderful as always. There’s a lot of full body shots and close ups on character’s faces. It fits in with the whole vibe this issue has of reintroducing readers to the characters and events of the book. Dragotta keeps it expressive and detailed, while Martin’s colors look almost painted in places. It’s a very nice effect, and makes everything look that much better.
East Of West #39 gets readers reacquainted with what’s been happening, and pulls the rug out from under them in one fell swoop. Hickman expertly subverts what readers thought they knew, and presents an alternate take on what has seemed inevitable. The art team delivers their usual amazing imagery, with this issue’s colors being especially good. This is one of the better story-arc openers in the book’s history, because it works so hard to get readers caught up while also offering up tantalizing developments. It’s not exactly a perfect jumping on point for new readers, but it’s the closest a book as densely plotted as this can get.